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Sport Expo: Closing Thoughts

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As I was packing up my camera gear on Sunday evening at the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, a volunteer rode up on his golf cart and joked about the place emptying out in a hurry. "We're like the Circus," he said, "when it's over, we're outta town!" He was right, too. At 5 p.m., the place was a windswept ghost town.

But it was hopping over the weekend, reminding me of how much I like this show. It's small, contained and intimate. You can walk right out on the flightline and right up to the runway to snap some pix and no security will come clamoring. And you can actually, like, fly real airplanes. (I did, too.)

For me, it was a pleasant culture shock, for earlier in the week I covered the big shooting and outdoor show in Las Vegas for one of our other publications. I'm quite certain it was a longer walk from my hotel room in Las Vegas than across the entire Sebring display area.

I interviewed a number of people at the show and you can see their comments in a video report elsewhere on the site. Just as you'd expect, the industry is maturing, although the inevitable shakeout has yet to occur. I'd like to say maybe it won't, but I know better.

Four interesting developments from my notes: Piper's selection of the Czech-made Sport Cruiser as its LSA entrant, a slick new model from Tecnam, Legend Aircraft's cool new amphib option and Dynon's new Skyview EFIS, which is just stunning. We've put together videos on all of these subjects.

I heard a little kvetching about the Piper decision, to the effect of asking why they're going with the Sport Cruiser instead of developing their own airplane. To me, the answer is obvious: It makes no business sense for Piper to develop and build its own LSA. In the Piper Cub days, they were everyman's airplane company—as Cessna is now—but they're not that today. Piper is a niche manufacturer which has sustained itself with a small volume of a relatively broad model line.

So it makes sense for them to buy an existing design out of the still-glutted LSA market. Whether the Sport Cruiser is the right choice remains to be seen. But it does give the company the step-up opportunity that airplane manufacturers have traditionally considered important. Cessna, of course, did this on its own with the Skycatcher.

Where to from here for the LSA market? I got the impression that manufacturers are optimistic about 2010, but not delusional. American Legend's Darin Hart told me that he thinks the market bottomed in 2009 and I hope he's right. (By the way, that Legend amphib is a thing to behold. Legend's build quality is second to none, in my view. I hope to fly it next month.)

My own view is that as the market gains experience, the airplanes look better, they have wider choices in avionics packages and accessories, the sales literature is more professional and complete—it's just looking more and more like a real industry.

The people who organize the Sport Aviation Expo deserve some of the credit for this. They put a lot of energy and investment into Expo and it shows. Put it on your calendar for next year. It's well worth the effort.

Comments (7)

I am hoping that Piper's entry into the LSA world with the PiperSport (SportCruiser) will have a positive effect for a lot of LSAs, namely, encouraging more A&Ps to learn the Rotax engine. I am a LSA owner (Sting S3) and the lack of expertise in that engine has been an ongoing concern for me.

Many thanks to AVweb for their great coverage of Sebring.

Posted by: Michael Wise | January 27, 2010 7:22 AM    Report this comment

I learned at Expo that Rotax trained 1,000 mechanics this past year. Our industry is very resistant to new entrants, but perhaps Rotax will turn the corner soon.

Posted by: Rand Siegfried | January 28, 2010 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I still think LSA is completely missing its mark with those 100-140k airplanes. If $3000 saved in getting a Sport Pilot's license is a significant amount to someone, how will he/she ever get into these kind of airplanes?? We have a cheap license and only outrageously priced airplanes to fly them with. (Unless you settle for an old Ercoupe or Aeronce, sure.)

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | January 28, 2010 11:15 AM    Report this comment

The whole LSA thing is a bit of a mystery to me. I agree completely with what Peter Thomas said, but if they really are too expensive, why are there so many companies in the market? Clearly somebody is buying them at this price.

As a glider pilot I have the same issue with new sailplanes. Who can afford a new sailplane with such limited application with prices in the 6 figure area? But that's what the manufacturers build, so clearly I dont understand that market either.

And that's why I fly a 30 year old used glider. And a homebuilt airplane. And if I ever need to go light sport for medical reasons it will either be another homebuilt or maybe an old restored Luscombe.

And thats why I'll never go to Sebring. Why bother if you know going in that you are priced out of the market?

Posted by: Mike Wills | January 28, 2010 1:56 PM    Report this comment

Let me see if I understand this, our nation is projected to have a debt of $15.6 TRILLION by Oct 2011. Other than printing money that we don't have, taxing the heck out of the private sector is the only way Washington might come close to making a dent in that nightmare. So where is Joe Pilot going to come up with $100 plus thousand of discretionary income to buy this toy? Happy talk and dreams are a poor substitute for financial decision making. I think this country is in DEEP do-do and GA in particular is going to take a very big hit.

Posted by: daniel schultz | February 1, 2010 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Good comments all. One thing to keep in mind: there's nothing in any rule book that says we have to solely buy and own an airplane. Check out LetsFly.org and The Airplane Partnership Company online. They both have excellent shared ownership programs that I've written about in Plane & Pilot. With LetsFly for example, you can put $2900 down with three other people (they find the partners for you and even do their own financing), pay around $400 a month, and everything - hangar, maintenance, overhauls, repairs, insurance - are covered. All you pay beyond that, for the entire 5-year life of the contract, is your gas costs, which is nominal. It's not even good for airplanes, which typically get used only 100 to 200 hours per year according to statistics, to sit in a hangar for 98% of their lifetime, just so we can say "I own it all myself, yipee!" American rugged individualism doesn't always mean we have to go things alone. For the price of financing a new boat, we can still have the lion's share of the ownership experience with a new, top-line LSA. That's why I've been promoting shared ownership and the resurgence of flying clubs in the magazine. I believe all we have to do is think outside the pattern a bit. Jim Lawrence, LSA Ed., Plane&Pilot

Posted by: James Lawrence | February 1, 2010 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Shared ownership is definitely an option worth considering. But regardless of the method (partnership, co-op, etc...) there are always going to be potential issues between partners/members. My first ownership experience was in a partnership on a 1947 Cessna 140. It was definitely the cheapest flying I've ever done and it was a great airplane to build tailwheel experience. But ultimately differences of opinion amongst the partners on how to maintain and manage the airplane drove me away.

For the right airplane, with the right partners, and with the right ownership agreement I would consider that route again. The LetsFly model, from what I can gather from the website, wouldnt suit me. I wouldnt get into any such arrangement without knowing my potential partners and knowing their goals for the airplane were well aligned with my own. And I wouldnt be involved without having a voice in how the airplane and partnership are managed and maintained.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 1, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

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